Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I just guided on Friday a gentleman from central Texas.  We're on the verge of a major tidal change, but the bay water has not yet fallen to its winter levels. When it does, it's dramatic, and requires an entire shift of focus for flyfishers--from the remote lagoons that most angler never see, to the main areas of south Cullens Bay and Rattlesnake Bay, which become so shallow that the deeper-draft boats hug the deeper troughs near Green Island, the Saucer, and Three Islands. For myself, there's no better time to flyfish than early December through mid-February; that is, if you can hit the sweet spots between the cold fronts that bring strong north winds at a time of the year when the low Southern sun will blind you as you pole or wade downwind. From two days after a north wind turns around until the next front, an angler has unparalleled opportunities to see and catch world-class trout (the one shown was caught on a sunny February day), and well-fed reds, both of which gouge themselves on finfish such as baby piggy perch in the absence of shrimp.

About the other day--Late fall fishing can be spectacular and lonely. Indeed, I took my client into a back lagoon where not a single angler could be seen. True, there was an airboat and several duck hunters who disturbed the peace from time to time, but the tailing reds did not seem to mind. They were as active as I've ever seen them, cruising in 8 inches and coming out of the water, backs and tails as they foraged for crabs in the shallow, cool water. We enjoyed low winds at dawn, and the winds were still nearly calm by late morning. In fact, we were so hot that my client and I were relieved to finally leave the area and enjoy the stiff breeze over the bow. But before we left, we'd sight casted to 20 reds, all of which were in the 24-28+ range. It was one of those mornings when the lagoon was truly "Lake Wobegone," where all the reds were above average.

If you're interested in experiencing winter fishing, let us know. We recommend that you consider it only if your travel plans are flexible. We like to watch the weather carefully, and advise you to reschedule unless the conditions are just right. Neither Randy nor I will ever have you come down for poor conditions. We'd rather reschedule you two or three times than have you encounter less than optimum winter sight casting.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fall Flyfishing

I had the privilege of guiding Ted Thomas and Dennis Matt from Virginia for the third or fourth time. Last year, we had "storybook" flyfishing--some of the best I've ever experienced, even though we had north winds and cloudy conditions for much of the time. Once again, we faced north winds every morning during their three days on the way--pretty low breezes at dawn, but stiffer north winds from late morning onward. This makes for difficult sight casting, because as the sun gets lower in the southern sky during the fall-winter, it creates a glare against the water surface. During our normal prevailing southeast winds, the sun is behind you, so there is less glare on the surface of the water.

We went immediately to a place where we'd scored big time last year, and poled into the area only to find no fish, and a strong-enough wind to hide the subtle signs of feeding reds, even if they'd been there. After half an hour of fruitless poling, I got up and headed out of the back lagoon. As we passed a shoreline, suddenly there were v-wakes everywhere, so I abruptly shut down and began poling into the shoreline. As the water settled, it became clear that we'd found the motherland of reds. For the next two hours or so, we waded the shoreline and had one shot after another at reds feeding with their backs out of the water in calm conditions. It was quite dramatic to see two or three golden backs reflected in the early morning sunlight slowly making their way toward the wading anglers. It was not easy flyfishing, however, given the calmness of the wind, and the sensitivity of the fish. A hard landing, or a foot short of the mark resulted in a lost opportunity. But Dennis and Ted are old hands at this subtle action, and managed to catch several nice reds before the wind came up. Here's two photos of 'doubles' that occurred during that initial wade.

The rest of the three days were difficult because of the north wind, and clouds, but nonetheless quite productive. We returned to same shoreline on the second morning, leaving the dock much earlier than usual in order to make sure we were the first ones there. We shut down and tied knots with the help of flashlights as the rosy dawn brightened to the point of being able to see the reds feeding in four or five inches of water along the glasswort-lined shoreline.

On each day we hit the sand by midday and landed a few fish there, even though the sunlight was intermittent, and the tides higher than usual. 

On the third morning, we returned to the same west-side lagoon, hoping for another bountiful early-morning wade along the shoreline. Alas, the fish had were not there, so we headed further south poking in and out of intimate backwaters, hoping to find some cruising or tailing fish. We stopped at one place, because 100 terns were diving on bait, and we thought that perhaps a few feeding reds could be found in the area. We saw nothing but decided to pole through the area. Just as soon as I climbed up on the poling platform, I saw a wake approaching from the west--about 100 yards away. Dennis grabbed his rod, stripped some line into the casting basket and prepared to intercept the incoming red. He made a perfect cast of a Kingfisher spoon fly, and hooked a nice 26+" red, which he landed after a lengthy fight.

After prospecting further south, we returned to same lagoon where we'd been catching fish at daybreak, and tried another shoreline. Ted got out and waded ahead of Dennis and me, and found cruising reds in water so shallow that I had to leave the Stilt 50 yards offshore while we waded in closer to capitalize on Ted's discovery. The guys had several shots at singles and doubles that were cruising down the shoreline with backs out of the water. Interestingly, it was the same exact location where we'd caught 10 reds a year before when they'd fished with me.

It was a wonderful three days, even though the north wind made it difficult at times. Ted and Dennis adjusted well to the demands, and as always were deeply grateful to be able to flyfish such an extraordinary flyfishery.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Not Holding Back Back: Master Flyfishing Adventures

Master Flyfishing Instruction

Lucille Ball once said that she would rather regret the things that she’d done than the things she hadn’t done. The Master Flyfishing Instruction program is about not holding back. So at this juncture in my life, when I don't want to be guiding 100 days a year, but want to make a difference in a few mens' lives, I now offer Master Flyfishing Instruction. I've always enjoyed working with passionate flyfishers who want to push the envelope of their knowledge and skills, and to experience new surprises in saltwater flyfishing. This is available for one angler at a time. The cost for this service is $850. It encompasses a dawn-to-dusk adventure on the Laguna Madre, comparable to two half days, or 12+ hours on the water (normally $900). The MFI includes the following:

  • Fishing with me. I have always believed that the best way for you to learn advanced methods is for you to flyfish with me, in order for you to learn what’s possible in every conceivable venue.
  • Wading as the ultimate full-immersion experience, and the key to non-invasive fishing methods.
  • Learning advanced casting methods, including, in particular, the double-haul backcast, and the Heron Haul upwind cast. These casting methods will allow you to fish 360 degrees in moderate winds.
  • Overcoming assumptions that impede your success, such as “the fish aren’t eating,” or “they’re finicky.” I will coach you on challenging these self-limiting assumptions.
  • Sight casting on the sand just before dark, a radical departure from the usual guiding schedule.
  • The day includes an assortment of 12 flies tied by Capt. Scott, a copy of his book, Healing the Fisher King, and a wine and cheese ceremony at sundown.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Extreme flyfishing, part 2

I have been guiding, or fishing for fun every weekend for the past month, and a few weekdays in between, as well. So what are the headlines? We have been catching most of our reds from 6 pm to sundown. It's the most reliable action that I've found in years, and it's the least popular time of the day to fish.

I don't keep this a secret, because the only people who are going to capitalize on it are the hardcore flyfishers. The fish are in extremely shallow water, so you can't take your boat there. Anyone with a standard boat won't be able to get within a mile of the fish. Even on my Stilt, I often have to stake the boat 200 yards from the fish. And then, they aren't there in numbers. It's very reliable flyfishing, but it's more like hunting than fishing. Are the reds hard to see? If they go shallow enough, as they often do, they are easy to see. That is, if they are in 4-5 inches of water, they're easy to spot; but if they stay in 6-8 inches of water, which is deep (believe it or not), they are more difficult to see once the sun is too low to help you see beneath the surface.

Here's the second video I've done of this action. Henry Bone (from Austin) and I fished two evenings together three weeks ago, and got into major redfish action each evening. You may have seen the first video that I did of Henry and me last year, which I posted on Youtube, and provided a link in a previous blog post. The late-feeding redfish are wildly aggressive at this time of day, and will come from three feet away in low light to grab the fly. You have to be ready for the strike, because it's fierce.

More recently--this past weekend--I guided Doug and Steven Gaunt from Dallas. They are old clients, and rank among the most successful clients in sheer numbers of fish caught year after year. We landed 19 reds and 2 trout (one 26")on Sunday, and for the Gaunts this was about average. Monday was pretty poor, but we caught 19 reds on Tuesday. Most of our success was on the sand after midday, but we had a pretty good morning on the west side at daybreak on Tuesday, finding aggressively feeding reds in thick grass. It wasn't easy fishing at any point during the three days, but the Gaunts did pretty well for two reasons: They cast well, and they prefer to wade.

I came in after our Sunday outing and spoke to another guide. He was stunned that we'd done so well. I didn't tell him why I thought we'd done so well, but I am convinced that the key to doing well with intermediate to advanced fly fishers is getting off the boat just as soon as you see the fish are turning away 40 yards out. They do this when they are cruising with their heads up, rather than feeding with their heads down, and thus able to spot the boat from 50 yards out, or more. Many guides will continue to pole, even though in my opinion it's a cruel and fruitless approach when the fish are seeing boat so far away. But that's always been my opinion, after guiding for 15 years. I may be narrow minded, having grown up stalking trout and reds on foot, but I believe that unless the fish are actively feeding with their heads down, wading is always preferable to poling, as long as the bottom is firm enough to support the angler. Unfortunately, once clients see so many fish from the boat, and believe that they cannot see fish while wading, they will prefer to remain on the boat and cast again and again to retreating fish.

Recently, I got two newcomers to wade after poling them for a couple of hours, and getting dozens of shots (without hookups). Within minutes, one of them had landed his first red on a fly rod. He exclaimed, "The reds behave so differently when I'm wading!!" I smiled because a lot of clients believe that the reds are often "not biting," when really they're simply uninterested in large objects barreling down on them.

Doug and Steve once caught over 60 reds on a single day, and they caught them all wading. Keep that in mind the next time you're on the front of a skiff and seeing the tail end of redfish, and not catching many. You might want to step off the boat and experience what redfish act like when they're not offended.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Flyfishing the Delaware

I've been visiting family and friends in Pennsylvania, and have been revisiting some of my favorite flyfishing waters. The upper Delaware River system (including the tributary streams, the Beaverkill and Willewemoc) is one of the best fly fisheries, if not the best, in the East. My friend Paul Robilotti said the other day that it makes Western flyfishing look like a piece of cake. I can remember plenty of low-catch days on Western streams during my four trips out there, but I have to admit, the upper Delaware makes them look like put-and-take streams by comparison. No surprise that it's where Lee Wulff once said that the trout have Phds (specifically in regard to the fabled Cairn's Pool of the Beaverkill).

I fished the West and upper East branches of the Delaware every other day for two weeks, usually with Paul, who knows these waters better than I do, having lived in New York all his life. These waters are big and cold streams--converted to tailwaters years ago--with classic, abundant hatches and large fish. But wow, you can't imagine how difficult it can be until you've casted 12 different fly patterns to one rising fish for an hour without a single take. Of course presentation means a lot, but after making an entirely drift-free cast, you have to have the right fly in the right color in precisely the right size. And then the trout has already seen so many artificials, that it's attained an almost unbelievable level of discrimination. So I won't tell you about my daily take. Actually, the catching part was so unimportant compared to the rest that just being there was good enough.

Paul and I divided time between his half-mile of land on the East Branch--where we worked on pouring concrete for his pole barn--and flyfishing the West and Upper East branches. It had been so hot that the hatches were off and the fishing even more challenging than usual, even though the water temps vary from 48-the upper 50s on these upper branches. If you don't wear extra clothes, you'll be on the edge of hypothermia once the sun sets behind the mountains.

Here's two recollections that have nothing to do with catching fish, which I will remember far longer than the buttery browns that took our flies:

6/21/16 I met a man fly fishing on the West Branch of the Delaware yesterday. The flies weren't hatching so we sat and visited. He told about the recent loss of his wife after 52 years of marriage, his crushing grief, his subsequent drug addiction and full recovery into a new sense of meaning at 72. He felt like an old friend, but I'll probably never see him again. I cherish such moments.

6/29/16 It was my last day on the water yesterday, so it was hard to answer Paul's question, "Where do you want to fish?" We'd gotten into good action on the upper East Branch three days earlier, but had returned all prepped and ready only to find nothing going on. So, we opted for the West Branch above Hales Eddy. Although it was a weekday, there were a lot of flyfishers on the stream, probably because the rains had lowered the air temp, creating better conditions for the evening hatches. We made a good decision, and found rising trout along the far bank. But you had to wade half-way across the river, and it was too deep to get within easy casting. So the casts had to be 70-80 feet with a drag-free float. Not easy. But both of us landed nice browns before committing the cardinal sin of "leaving fish to find fish." We headed back upstream, and drank a beer while we contemplated our next step. Meanwhile, there was a little motorhome parked beside the road, with a generator running announcing the presence of its owner. I was surprised that Paul went up and knocked on the door, but then again, Paul is so outgoing and I am so introverted that I often want to go hide and watch from a secure location. An elderly man came to the door and came outside, carrying a toothbrush and wearing a faded scarf around his neck and a white dress shirt and sneakers. His near-toothless smile made me wonder how little time it must have taken to brush them, but then it occurred to me that he carried the toothbrush with him for some other reason, as security or somesuch. At first I was a little alarmed by him, but then he began talking about flyfishing, and about the morning blue-winged olive hatch. Suddenly he was speaking a universal language with such fluency that I was immediately impressed. Unassuming and eccentric, he was nonetheless a master angler, and a sweet soul beneath the odd exterior. At some point in the conversation, he mentioned spending many successive years on the stream, coming down as he did from Canada each year, and parking his RV in the Methodist camp ground. As we began to say goodbye, he mentioned another man who had spent many years on the river, driving from place to place in a Lincoln Town Car. He said, "I saw him every year, and then one day he was gone." 

When Paul and I got into the truck, He told me that he'd met the French Canadian years back and had run into him from time to time. He said that he also knew of the man in the Town Car, and that he was in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimers. I knew then why Paul hadn't told the Canadian where the other man had disappeared to.

Hours later, and miles downstream, Paul and I headed toward a bridge that would take us to the parking lot where we'd left the truck. I was shivering and clumsy from wading the deep, swift waters, and I looked forward to making a sandwich on the tailgate of Paul's truck before driving back to Binghamton, where Paul lived. A fog hung over the riffles, creating a dreamlike effect. But not a fish was rising.

A man sat on the side of the stream below the bridge. It was, of all people, the Canadian holding a fine bamboo rod and a worn Bogdan reel, bedecked in well-worn waders, vest, and long-brimmed cap. I didn't recognize him at first, but then he turned and smiled his near-toothless smile and reported what we already knew--that nothing much was happening. He and Paul talked a few more minutes before we climbed the rocky slope where I'd fallen and bruised my elbows on the way down, and made our way across the bridge where the sandwich meat awaited us. As we stood, eating and talking about the day, the voice of the Canadian rose out of the twilight fog. 

"Hey Binghamton! Will I see you on the river tomorrow? Will I see you soon?" Paul shouted back, "I will see you soon." But I knew that the three of us were thinking the same thing and treasuring the moment.

I'll be back on the Laguna Madre this coming weekend, and will let you know how the fishing is. -- scott

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Amazing Flyfishing After Two Tough Days

Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing out there running around in a vast estuary with grown men who've spent a small fortune to chase animals with a brain the size of a split pea. When it's like last weekend--cloudy and windy and stormy--it can make me wish that I'd seen it coming, and that I could have warned them off in time.

After two days fishing with my old client Scott Minnich and his son Jeff, during which there were promising opportunities under difficult conditions, I thought it was all over--no fish for two days, and the guys were heading home. I pulled up to the dock after 10 hours on the water, tired and discouraged, and started unpacking the boat. I thought, perhaps wrongly, "they probably won't be back." I was sad about that, because Scott had come to be a friend after several years of flyfishing with me and other NewWater captains on the Lower Laguna Madre. But as I pulled the rods out of the holders and laid them on the dock, Scott said, "So I guess we can just leave some of this in the boat." I was puzzled by this statement, and then Scott asked, "Same time tomorrow morning?" I was shocked, and suddenly realized that they had intended to fish three days, not two. I scrambled inwardly, and said, "Oh, sorry, I got it wrong, but no problem, I'm available."

I was so relieved that I didn't have new clients coming in, or some immovable object that I could not work around. That night, we broke the spell of fishless days by going into Harlingen and having dinner together at La Playa, which is a hellova great restaurant.

Monday dawned breathless and cloudy, so I took the guys into a back lagoon where the water was just above our booties. We'd observed redfish sweeping into the lagoon during the previous two evenings, so I was pretty sure they'd be there in the morning, since the tide was still pretty high. Sure enough, after taking the Stilt as far as I could into the most remote part of the back lagoon, I saw reds spooking ahead of the skiff, so I shut down in glassy conditions. The wind was coming up, but not enough to break the surface tension of the water. After a couple of minutes, we spotted what we'd come for: sweeping groups of reds 200 yards further in, being escorted by one or two terns or laughing gulls, which would hover briefly over the reds whenever they'd drive bait into the air.

Jeff, who is a guide in Wyoming doesn't need much coaching or help, so I was happy to see him head toward the sweeping fish, leaving Scott and me to proceed at a lower pace toward the west shoreline. Fish were everywhere, and would show briefly pushing water before disappearing again. Except for an occasional sweeping pod, the fish were largely invisible.

Jeff hiked toward the back of the lagoon where the water is about 5 inches deep. There he stopped and began casting to redfish that were visible with their backs out of the water. Standing in one area, he proceeded to land his first three reds on a fly rod. Scott and I were so far from him that we didn't get any photos of this inaugural event, but Jeff didn't care. He was so absorbed in the hunt that neither he nor I wanted to take the time for photos.

After a while, the wind came up and "drowned out" the subtle signs of the feeding reds, so we headed south into another back lagoon where I hoped to find tailing pods in clear, shallow water. Sure enough, after poling into the area, we spotted several pods in the breezy conditions, and both anglers managed to get their flies into groups of 8-10 tailing fish. Alas, the action fell off pretty quickly when the sun broke through the clouds. Indeed, podding often breaks up by late morning if the sun is bright. It was like someone flipped a switch and suddenly the pods were nowhere to be seen.

At that point, it was about 11 am, and blue sky could be seen over the east side "sand," so I headed north and east, and ran for about 8 miles before we started seeing a few reds scattering ahead of the boat. We passed a 20-lb jack crevalle hunting on the sand--something we've been seeing this year, for some reason. We
shut down just when the north wind was starting to subside, and ate our sandwiches. I was starting to get excited, even though there was no rational reason to believe that great success was imminent. I looked east toward the "shelf," where the water goes from a foot deep to 4 inches, and said, "I feel the flat turning on. Not sure why."

Scott and Jeff spread out and began walking south with the waning north wind, and almost immediately Jeff started casting at reds, and hooked up a minute or two later. For the next three hours, the guys enjoyed constant redfish action. In fact, there was hardly a time when reds were not visible to the anglers. By my reckoning, they had five double hookups, and landed somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 more reds, even though neither of them counted their catch. Scott, who is a veteran Lower Laguna angler said over and over, "I've never seen anything close to this action!"

I had to agree that it rarely, if ever, gets any better than what Scott and Jeff experienced last Monday. I had a lot of respect for them after our three days on the water. They never complained about the difficulty we'd faced on the first two days, and were seasoned enough to take the goose eggs along with the 40+ fish with the same sense of gratitude. Somehow, their success on the third day makes perfect sense, as a consequence of right attitude and right action. Pictures (and a video) to follow.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Glorious Day on the Sand

I wish you’d been with me today. I waded the upper sand with my faithful companion Rosie, while Julie napped on the kayak while it was tethered to the Stilt. I waded downwind of the boat toward the edge of the sand proper, relishing the sight of luminescent water, lit with the midday sun. The water was a golden color, and gradually shifted to greenish blue as the depth went from a foot to about 17 inches, and the bottom became softer with some sprigs of widgeon grass breaking the otherwise sterile appearance. Nearby were small spoil islands covered with blooming prickly pear. At my feet, I knew plenty of crabs were hidden beneath the surface of the sand, and so did the redfish. I didn’t expect to see much-maybe a redfish or two, but it didn’t matter: The scene was out of a very good dream, and nothing would have improved upon it. We’d waded about 200 yards west of the Stilt, which was anchored in less than a foot of water, and started to spot redfish; first one, then a couple, and then a group of 7-8 fish swimming toward me. That was the beginning of an unbroken stream of feeding redfish, heading upwind alone or in groups, head down and tails breaking the water from time to time.

I had a tiny chartreuse Clouser tied onto my six weight. I broke off cleanly on the first strike by putting too much resistance on the breakaway fish, then spooked a couple before landing my first of six reds in about an hour. After spooking or missing  or catching several other reds with the clouser, I switched to a tiny crab pattern, which seemed to please them a bit more. I landed two more on the crab in the 24-25 inch range before heading back to the boat. It was the best action I’ve seen on the sand in a couple of years. They were plentiful, aggressive and above average in size.

I managed to take some video with my free hand, and here's a clip of landing one of the 24-25" reds.  You really should experience the sand on a cloudless day. Whether you find a few fish or a lot of them as I did today, you will return home with something you didn’t have before—a deeper sense of peace and gratitude for the sheer beauty of an uncluttered expanse of clear water.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Fishing with Ryan

After guiding several days in the recent past, I finally made it out with my son Ryan and dog Rosie for some flyfishing for fun. We fished south, and waded exclusively during one of the prettiest spring days you can imagine. Full sun and low wind, even though it was a chilly ride out at daybreak.

It's always a joy to see Ryan succeed with a fly rod. Indeed, he's very good at it. I've said to many clients, whose sons have committed themselves to flyfishing, "There's not much more you need to know in order to predict your son's future success." Over the years, I've found this to be true. Not many people will dedicate themselves to a methodology that is so difficult to learn. But for some of us, "it's the damned difficulty that makes the fun," (St. Cecil in Dodson's book, Faithful Travelers).

I've posted a video clip on Facebook showing Ryan landing a red on his seven-weight TFO combo. Rosie had been wading with me, but she was back on the boat for the glamour shot. See https://www.facebook.com/gregory.s.sparrow. I tried to upload it here, but it was the wrong format. Maybe later.

The fish were thick down south--big trout and reds mixed together. But they were very tough, and the wading was difficult, too--an inconsistent bottom and thick turtle grass made line management and movement a chore. Still, we prefer to wade together, even though we would have gotten more shots from the boat. It's a matter of preference.

We'd planned to fish the sand, but the fishing was so good on the West side that we never headed east before going in around 2:30. It was a great day.

When we got back in, Randy Cawlfield arrived at Channelview with his new Stilt. He was all grins after struggling with a moody Etec for the last six months. It'
s hard to beat Yamaha, or Suzuki.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Spring will be here soon!

Hi all, It's hard to believe it's already January! Winter down here is so brief that we've got about six weeks more of relatively cool weather before the trees start putting out their buds. Julie and I are plowing part of out back yard on Sunday (if it's not too muddy from this moisture!) and putting in wildflower seeds in the next week.

Last year was a rather difficult flyfishing year in several ways. First of all, we had a very wet and unstable spring that continued through May. Indeed, 2015 was one of our wettest years in recent history. The birding action (i.e. casting to tailing reds under gulls) wasn't as dramatic or as consistent as it usually is in the spring, and the birding we did have often featured more catfish than redfish under the gulls. Needless to say, every year is a new game, and there's no reason to believe that 2016 will resemble 2015 at all. We just have to "show up" and make the best of the conditions at hand.

Randy and I both experimented with having fly fishers stay at our trailers on the water. Since I also have a bunkhouse, it's possible to have some privacy while saving money at the same time. I will be continuing this offering into 2016. I can handle one or two guys (women would not take well to this set-up). The great thing about staying at the trailer is that you're on the water and ready to jump in the boat at day break, you can fish for trout under the lights, and you can prepare your own food either with me or by yourselves. I charge a modest fee for this lodging option. Otherwise, we're continuing to have a great relationship with Atascosa Outlook B&B and Ray Box, who owns a house on the Arroyo not far from our RV Park.

Another option is for you to rent the "other guy's" trailer. That is, when you fish with me, you could rent Randy's place, and have it entirely to yourselves. Or vice versa. In this scenario, your wive might like the setting, cost, and simplicity of being on the water near your guide's lodging and boat.

Give us some notice if you'd like to pursue one of these options, so we can plan on having the trailers set up for guests.